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Fatty XXL Meets the Little Mermaid High on X and Texting

For almost a decade now Action Books has been filling a gap in American publishing by translating works that are considered avant-garde masterpieces in other parts of the world into English. They published Tao Lin in the US before you knew who he was...
Blake Butler
Κείμενο Blake Butler

For almost a decade now Action Books has been filling a gap in American publishing by translating works that are considered avant-garde masterpieces in other parts of the world into English. They’ve introduced Americans to writers from Sweden, Japan, Korea, Argentina, Chile… and the list goes on. They also published Tao Lin in the US before you knew who he was and had some dumb opinion about him, alongside a variety of other singular, shape-defying voices including big guns like Aase Berg, Kim Hyesoon, Don Mee Choi, Raúl  Zurita, Hiromi Ito, and countless others.

Their website’s manifesto reads:


“Action Books is transnational.

Action Books is interlingual.

Action Books is Futurist.

Action Books is No Future.

Action Books is feminist.

Action Books is political.

Action Books is for noisies.

Action Books believes in historical avant-gardes.

& unknowable dys-contemporary discontinuous occultly continuous anachronistic avant-gardes.”

Run by power-couple Joyelle McSweeney and Johannes Göransson, who are each incredible writers in their own right, you can always expect something you did not expect to be the next thing. I buy everything Action Books puts out, each time knowing that what I’m getting is unlike whatever else surrounds it.

This summer, Actions Books released five new titles all at the same time: The Warmth of the Taxidermied Animal, by Tytti Heikkinen; Pop Corpse, by Lara Glenum; In the Moremarrow, by Oliverio Girondo; Mouth of Hell, by Maria Negroni; and The Parapornographic Manifesto, by Carl-Michel Edenborg. Below are a look at two of them, though let it be known that you should own everything they’ve brought forward.

The Warmth of the Taxidermied Animal by Tytti Heikkinen [Translated by Niina Pollari]

Tytti Heikkinen is a Finnish poet who assembles monologue-like poems from text she digs up out of the continually growing corpse of the internet. Stealing language is nothing new, but the manner in which it is constructed here feels much larger than just found text. Heikkinen has an incredible ability to couple different logics together in a way that creates a kind of tunnel, into a hole. The book is split up into three sections, each derived from Heikkinen’s first two books, both bizarre and innovative in their own ways, and even more so when complied together into one.


Through the book’s first section we follow a nameless narrator through strange rooms with dead rabbits, TV snow, oily bathwater, dark images floating in mirrors, and parties full of wives of cops. Then we are suddenly passed into the hands of a female teen narrator, who goes by the name Fatty XXL. She opens her section by saying, “Gonna say one thing just as soon as this vomiting stops… Went shopping today for cute shoes. !! Everybody is gross but me and my friends.” Through Fatty XXL, in language stolen from girls online, we are pushed down even deeper into the opening landscapes, into places that at once seem funny and disgusting. She berates herself, calls herself names, is emotionally molested, all in language that sounds familiar and disoriented, close and insane. “I Want my bones to showI’m / a faaaaaaaaaaattttttttttttttttyyyyyyyyyyyy / yyyyyy I’m furious about my fat!” she screams.

The final third of the book is also perhaps the most brutal, switching out from the first two sections’ modes into strange descriptions of calamities and sex acts, rendered from a variety of different perspectives. The transition jars the narrative before it into something even bigger, like we have come out of a tube into a world that looks like the darkest parts of ours. After recounting the story of “An 18-year old Thai man [who] confessed to having sliced open one person’s throat every night with a broken lamp,” the hidden narrator concludes: “When I heard about the case, I thought about the human mind: a weird baby, a placenta in unknown places.” The book then ends, leaving you exposed and open in a totally different territory than you ever expected, right under your nose.


The result is somehow like taking part in a crime both as the victim and the perpetrator, strange like a fake snuff film found on YouYube starring some foreign teens who are only sort of kidding.

Pop Corpse by Lara Glenum

There is a very different kind of internet-speak at work in Pop Corpse, the third book by American poet Lara Glenum. Glenum has always been one to do damage against her own language; she likes to bang words together, rape their syllables, use words that somehow smell as weird as they sound. The text at work in this book is even more demolished than usual, borrowing all sorts of instant message language and over-the-top techno-age potty-mouth talk, coupled together with a perverse take on Disney icons and child-dream babble. The cover of the book depicts what appears to be the Little Mermaid tatted-up and with running make-up looking like she’s about to take a shit inside her fish-bottom costume. The gaudy neon pink and sea-foam green horizon seem to both want to charm and warn the reader with its cartoon mutant gaudiness.

And gaudiness is all over the place in here. Very early on in the construction, which reads less like poems and more like a stage-play porn set, Glenum uses a whole page to insist: “YR COCK BELONGS UP THE ASS OF THIS BOOK.” Is this shocking or just ridiculous? Are the emoticons that look like a pair of tits next to some scissors making fun of me, or of itself, or both? Whatever we’re in the midst of, it won’t stop changing: characters appear and have text-message-like conversations amid plastic landscapes and all-caps proclamations, always seeming to change gears before we can ever start to get anywhere. “Look at the fantastic hole in your torso,” says a character named XXX, as an aside directed to the reader. “The historical light of misery flooding through.” Other characters, named such things as THE SMEAR, OCTOWARDEN, JIZZLER, PURSED & PUCKERED, collide and pose and talk of nothing turn by turn, divided up by more emoticons and mandates, instructions forced onto the reader: “{Dip the puppet bodies into wax} {to make a thick casing.} {Dig into the wax skin} {& pull the meat stuffing out.} {I’m fingers deep} {in their ground chuck faces} {when I cum}. The theater keeps bending, eating at itself, wanting you to eat it, wanting more than that, while all these voices continue on, jumbled in their hyper-awareness and over-sexed online-brain.

I’ve never quite seen a mess of such proportion, but the mess itself is what’s alive. It continues to defy you, almost spitting on itself as much as it seems to want to spit on you. It also wants to charm you, to make you feel insane or something, to gross you out the way a child does—a confused and insane fashion-destroyed child who is too young to be this drunk on media.

Previously - I Hate Myself and Want to Die: A Review of the New Wendy's Pretzel Burger